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Struggle of Faith and Reason: A History of Intolerance and Punitive Censorship

Part II: From Mediaeval Cathars to Giordano Bruno and Lucilio Vanini

Juhani Sarsila

Humanists look up to Hellas as the cradle of European culture. The book spans nearly five centuries of a later epoch of this worthy tradition. Starting with the awesome high-mediaeval Cathars, the exposition proceeds in chronological order. Eventually, we meet Giordano Bruno and Lucilio Vanini, both of them red-letter heretics. The work affords cognisance of a neglected branch of learning. History of morals in general, and that of the struggle of faith and reason in particular, provides in-depth insights into the allotted fate of dissentient man. A potentially fateful nexus appears to be interweaving between book and author. Organised religion is evermore based on the politically beneficial idea of anthropomorphism or metaphysical projection. For has Man not made God in his image?

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IX Church Opposition to Reason and Toleration



Both Protestants and Catholics of the Reformation era disliked intensely reason and toleration, as they, with some petty modifications, drummed up support for fierce persecution. The Catholics set up their own up-to-date Holy Office, the Inquisition. The inquisitors were steadfast, not vacillating, in their traditional conviction that they were in possession of the only saving truth. We find it set and staple rather than strange that Luther (just like the earliest Christians) in his early period, when he had not yet tasted the delights of worldly power, pressingly advocated tolerance. He catechised that heresy could at no period be impeded by violence. Very far indeed he does progress in declaring: “Faith is free. What could a heresy trial do? No more than make people agree with mouth or in writing; it could not compel the heart.” At first, Luther, the man of coarse mode of speech, permitted the Anabaptists to believe what they ever liked, “be it gospel or lies”. Incipiently, Luther (in line with Ulrich Zwingli and Philipp Melanchthon) declared himself strongly opposed to the use of forcible measures against those who stood in the wings of his movement, and tended to add colour to its motives. In Luther’s own words: “Heretics must not be suppressed or held down by physical force, but only combated by the word of God. For heresy is a spiritual affair, which cannot be washed away by earthly fire or earthly water” (Zweig 1936, 138). These...

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